07/05/2017 - 07/07/2017
I wasn't really sure how much to expect from Oslo. I'd always written it off as one of the expendable European capitals, an unnecessary destination even if one wanted to feel like an experienced European traveler. Of course, once we decided to go and I began to research the city, I found a lot to like about it. We used our typical two day stop for mid-sized cities in Oslo which turned out to be perfect.
I was prepared for my Danish and Swedish SIM cards not to work in Norway, but we still had a difficult arrival in Oslo. Our GPS had some difficulty negotiating a highway exit once we were in the city and we drove aimlessly around a barren industrial area for a while, unable to find any way out of it. Once we arrived at the residential complex of Pilestredet Park, we realized we had an apartment number but no building number. Sure enough, our SIMs didn't work and we had no way to communicate with our hosts. Eventually Mei Ling found an open Wifi and our hosts directed me to the right building, but once I arrived on the floor I found that only one of the apartments had a number on the door. I spent some time trying to extrapolate where our apartment would be located based on the most logical numbering plan, and then our host arrived just as I was preparing to knock on the wrong door. The Airbnb was a cute little place with a loft and a heavy, low-hanging light fixture that my cranium was to become intimately and repeatedly acquainted with.
I was excited about having dinner at Elias mat & sånt in the city center because I knew they had reindeer stew, which I pictured as being very hearty and gamy. In fact, it proved to be rather flavorless and forgettable along with the rest of the meal, so that made two restaurant dinners in a row that hadn't been worth the trouble. At least we got to see a sample of Norwegian humor in front of a bar next to the restaurant.
The next day we embarked on the full day walking tour we always do in a new European city. We walked through the large graveyard where Edvard Munch is buried to Mathallen, the best-known food hall in Oslo. As usual when we arrived early at a food hall in Scandinavia, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. The atmosphere and variety was similar to Torvalleherne in Copenhagen and Saluhallen in Gothenburg. We found a seafood market and restaurant just as the kitchen was opening, and convinced them to cook us some whale meat even though it wasn't on the menu. Along with some luscious oysters and savory clams, the meal at VulkanFisk was quite delicious. It was only the second time in my life I'd tried whale meat, after having it as sushi in Tokyo a few years earlier.
We walked south along the bank of the Akerselva River, which we eventually crossed at a bridge whose entrance was guarded by a very oddly muralized giant beer bottle.
Just upstairs from the other side of the bridge, we found ourselves in Oslo's hipster neighborhood Grünerløkka. It was an attractive, upbeat little community. I left everyone in a park while I went to 7-Eleven to inquire about my nonfunctional Danish and Swedish SIM cards. Naturally, the end result was having to buy a Norway SIM card. I withdrew cash just in time to pay for the cherries that Mei Ling and the kids had already grabbed from a fruit stand in the park.
The galleries and cafes in Grünerløkka weren't of much interest to us, so we meandered east through the large park Sofienbergparken where lots of people were sunning themselves on the grass and picnicking. Then we crossed Akerselva again into Torggata, another busy downtown neighborhood, where we briefly visited the well-known seafood market and restaurant Fiskeriet Youngstorget. The crates of dried fish were cool, but otherwise we didn't see anything to make us regret having eaten our fill at VulkanFisk in Mathallen earlier.
We stopped briefly at the central train station where I picked up the tickets I had reserved for our Norway in a Nutshell tour later in the trip, and then walked a little further to the waterfront and Oslo's famous Opera House. The most unique feature of this ten year old structure is the long walkway which slopes gently from the roof level to the ground, allowing visitors to walk up to the roof fairly easily. The walkway continues downward past ground level all the way to the water's edge. In the harbor nearby is the steel and glass "She Lies" sculpture. We all climbed the walkway together to the roof. It's steeper than it looks from the ground and the kids loved fighting against the slope and exploring the contoured roof.
On a promontory between the Opera House and the ferry terminal is the 13th century Akershus fortress. We spent about an hour wandering around outside the impressive stone buildings.
We continued our walk onto Aker Brygge, the touristy built-up wharf complex. Unsurprisingly, the boardwalk was lined with unappetizing generic restaurants crowded with tourists. There was also a surprising amount of residential housing, in modern angular apartment blocks. We already had a destination in mind having been recommended Rorbua for dinner by the staff at VulkanFisk that morning. Rorbua proved to be a little bit touristy as well, but their versions of traditional Norwegian game dishes were much more satisfying than what we had the previous night. We were happy to break our short streak of lousy restaurant dinners.
As the late Norwegian dusk began to settle in, street performers were entertaining the growing crowds headed back and forth between the city center and Aker Brygge. Cleo got a supporting role in one comedian's performance.
We had completed most of a circle around central Oslo over the course of a day and just had a half hour walk back to our Airbnb. We walked back through the center, passing between the National Theater and Slottsparken, home of the Royal Palace. We briefly thought about walking into the park to see the palace but concluded we were too exhausted and called it a night.
We spent our second and last morning in Oslo at Vigeland Sculpture Park inside Frognerparken. All the works in the park are nudes by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, and they vary from comical to disturbing. The setting was beautiful, especially when viewed from the elevated platform that houses the central monolith of entwined human figures. The kids and I created our own version of a Vigeland sculpture, although out of respect for the tour groups we chose not to disrobe.
Frognerparken had an elaborate playground with tunnels and suspension bridges that the kids enjoyed for about an hour. After a so-so lunch at a Thai-inspired noodle shop, it was time to set off for Norway's interior. In parting, here's a great local's guide to Oslo.